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US, Iraqi Forces Step Up Attacks in Sunni Triangle - 2004-09-09

U.S. forces in Iraq have carried out more attacks in areas of the country controlled by insurgents, including what they say is a hideout used by supporters of suspected terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The stepped up activity in Iraq's Sunni triangle follows what the Pentagon says have been increasingly sophisticated attacks by insurgents that have left nearly 20 Americans dead this week alone.

For the third consecutive day, American aircraft carried out attacks on targets in the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah, which has been under the control of Sunni rebels since early this year, when American Marines let an Iraqi commander take charge of what has been a stronghold of anti-American militancy.

In Baghdad, coalition spokeswoman Sharon Walker describes Thursday's pre-dawn air strikes as part of on-going operations targeting the al-Zarqawi network.

"The target was a building frequently used by terrorists. Three Zarqawi associates were reported to be in the area," she said. "No other individuals were present at the time of the strike. The clear and compelling intelligence leading to this mission was derived from multiple Iraqi sources."

No word on whether the Jordanian himself was there at the time. He is wanted in connection with a series of terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians in Iraq, including the beheading in May of American civilian Nick Berg. "As far as casualties, we don't know the civilian casualties," Ms. Walker said.

But reports from Fallujah say at least eight people were killed in the air strikes, including women and children.

And in another Sunni stronghold, Samarra, the Pentagon says Iraqi and coalition forces entered the town Thursday, reinstalled the city council and conducted a security assessment.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon's top General Richard Myers acknowledged that it may be months before enough Iraqi forces are adequately equipped and trained to allow them on their own to retake areas of the country now under the control of insurgents

"They have a strategy for the cities," he said. "Part of that strategy is that Iraqi security forces must be properly equipped, trained and led to participate in these security operations and then once it's over, can sustain the peace in a given city."

The heaviest number of casualties Thursday was reported near the Syrian border in the town of Tal Afar. More than 50 people were said to have been killed and scores more wounded in an operation the Pentagon says was carried out by multinational and Iraqi forces to retake the town from insurgents. The area is described as a weapons smuggling route and one used by foreign fighters entering Iraq.